Neeskens remains upbeat
Johan Neeskens (Gallo Images)
Durban - Head coach Johan Neeskens remained defiant after his Mamelodi Sundowns side slumped to a second cup final defeat in seven months when they were beaten to the Telkom Knockout crown on Saturday.
The Brazilians, who remain without a trophy since 2008, were ousted 1-0 by Bloemfontein Celtic at Moses Mabhida Stadium, with Joel Mogorosi’s controversial second-half goal helping Siwelele clinch the lucrative prize.
Under-fire Neeskens, whose embattled team are second from bottom in the Premiership, was under huge pressure to win the title and appease disgruntled supporters and his bosses.
“It is obviously disappointing, but this was a final where there is always a winner and a loser,” the Dutchman said.
“I think it will be difficult to lift this team to challenge for the (league) title, but to get away from where we are, I’m confident it’s going to work out.
“If we can play the way we did in the first half, it was the kind of football we want to play.
“So we have enough quality to come out of this. Yes, we lost two finals in the last six or seven months, but it was also after a long couple of years that this club had even reached a final. That is also a positive.”
Neeskens had been castigated for some of his decision making over team selection, and there was further criticism when he opted to leave the experienced Anthony Laffor, one of his better players this season, on the bench and instead started the final with the inexperienced Samuel Julies.
“I can understand that people are upset and frustrated, but those are the kinds of things that we as coaches have to be prepared for,” he said.
“I think if I had to ask all the fans who were in the stands to give me their line up, I’m going to get five thousand different line-ups.
“That is part of the job. I can only say that I give 100 percent for the club, I stand 100 percent behind my players. I don’t blame them, and if there is someone to blame, then it is me because I selected the team.”
Neeskens praised his players for fighting till the end, but he felt their lack of composure in front of goal was crucial to the outcome.
“I must compliment my team because they played a pretty good game, especially the passing,” he said.
“The thing we didn’t do very well in the last 20 minutes was try to keep playing football, and we didn’t do too well with our play in the final third where we were sometimes rushing and chose the wrong decisions.
"But I cannot blame them, they fought right until the end.”
Replays failed to conclusively show the entire ball had crossed the line when Mogorosi headed home in the 47th minute, and while Neeskens would not be drawn into a debate on the goal, he did criticise his outfit for giving their opponents the opportunity.
“I don’t know if the ball totally crossed the line. I could not see it from where I was sitting," he said.
“Just the way the goal went, there was too much ball watching from our players.
"Three of our players went for the same ball. They all missed, including the goalkeeper, and it was a very open chance for them.”